Many people aren’t aware that some Florida laws, regarding child abuse, changed a few years ago. It is now mandatory for anyone who suspects abuse to immediately report it to police or the department of children and family. That even goes for tourists.
“If you suspect it report it. If it’s not happening, we’re not going to go out and take children from their parents and arrest people. We are going to ensure it is not happening and in that case we will move on and let the family move on. But make the report if you suspect it,” said Lieutenant Jeremy Mathis, Bay County Sheriff’s Office.
When Bay County Sheriff’s investigators arrested a Panama City couple this week, only one of them was accused of sexual molestation children. Authorities say they charged 52-year old Shirley Tanner because she did not report the alleged abuse being committed by 57-year Rocky Allen Cook. As they investigated, they say it became apparent there was more than one victim and that tanner, who was the caregiver, was aware it was going.
Bay County Sheriff’s officials are working hard to raise awareness about child abuse. But, they say that in order for them to stop it, they need help from the public.
“The biggest thing is report it. I think that people in the state of Florida are not aware that the law has changed a couple of years ago and now every person in the state of Florida, whether they live here, are visiting here or they are vacationing here, they are a mandatory reporter to the department of children and family if you suspect child abuse,” said Mathis.
In the cook and tanner case of, the victims claimed they had previously told tanner about cook abusing them.And by failing to report it or kick cook out of the home, her silence allowed additional abuse to occur.
“The children that were interviewed in reference to that case had told her of some of the inappropriate touching that was going on and some of the molestation incidents that had occurred. And she had continued to allow him access not only to the children but to the house. And in times unsupervised access where she was not there. So she could not insure the safety of the children,” said Mathis.
Cook is being held in the Bay County jail on $50,000 bond. He’s charged with 1-count of Lewd & Lascivious acts, molesting a victim less than 12-years old. Tanner is charged with 1-count of abuse of a child without great bodily harm. She’s free on pre-trial release.